Diversity and Inclusion 2.0

As we celebrate Black History Month and recognize the accomplishments associated with this annual observance, time should also be taken to acknowledge the significant progress that has been made in the broader area of Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) across our business landscape. We have a long way to go, but heightened respect and appreciation for differences in ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, education and religion have changed the talent practices of most businesses and redefined the profiles of leadership teams and executive boards. The value of embracing varied perspectives, work experiences, lifestyles and cultures has spurred new levels of innovation and competitive advantage. In its annual Predictions for 2016* research report, Bersin (Deloitte) discusses the rise of a new talent management maturity model that assigns varied levels of maturity based, among other factors, on the sophistication of a company’s efforts in designing and developing D&I solutions. Regretfully, most organizations (71%) are still managing the D&I discipline from a compliance perspective, as their solutions usually take the form of a “program” or, worse still, an “event”. But as some of the more mature organizations have demonstrated, there is an opportunity to take D&I to the next level … call it Diversity & Inclusion 2.0. These organizations view the D&I platform as a strategic imperative and one that is embedded into everything they do. The ultimate goal of their D&I strategy is to eventually not need one at all.

In its research Bersin discusses the development of an “inclusive talent system” by approximately 10% of companies at the highest maturity level. These leading organizations have differentiated themselves in the D&I arena by thoughtfully building the type of culture and processes that invite diversity and generate business value through diversity. This D&I 2.0 approach is more strategic and less programmatic. As we broaden our definition of diversity to include the variability of both people AND ideas, what are some of the actions we can take to further drive strategic diversity across the business? How can we build our own organizational “field of dreams” from which the broadest array of talent and ideas can contribute and innovate in a fast-changing economy?

We know that within the new world of training and development, for example, there is a growing passion around self-directed learning. This trend is shifting the balance between corporate learning that is more centralized and standardized and individual-based learning that allows employees to curate, recommend and arrange content that they find helpful. This latter, more recent, phenomenon recognizes the power of data and technology to access the right learning content at the right time and in the right format. As we define new means for self-directed learning, from mobile devices to podcasts to rotational assignments, we must build these channels and the learning experiences they create with an inclusive mindset that will engage and nurture the minds of a more diverse team.

The performance management process in most companies has floundered over time and struggles to address the needs of a more diverse and demanding workforce. Less mature organizations continue to steward an archaic process that is insensitive to basic needs and new desires such as a fulfilling and inspiring performance review process, investments in affinity groups and communities of practice for specific talent pools, and formal coaching programs. If we redesign performance management from an annual HR process into a more inclusive business system, we can explore and reinvent new approaches to goal-setting and career mapping, informal and formal relationships and performance discussions with the proper spirit and cadence, tailored coaching and mentoring platforms, user-friendly applications that personalize the performance management experience, and a communication strategy that addresses the needs of all populations and inspires the entire workforce.

Our traditional associations with leadership and succession continue to shift as we see an uptick in the importance of agility, collaboration and social advocacy, while the perceived value of hierarchy and tenure has plateaued or is perhaps trending down. With expanding spans of control and more cross-functional, global teams, today’s business leader is more commonly a team leader than a top-down executive. The D&I 2.0 strategy must define the competencies of a diverse leadership team, enable the accelerated promotion of qualified leadership candidates of any profile, and design a tailored, engaging approach to the continued development of such leaders. Replacement candidates for targeted leadership roles should be sourced with a broad brush and selected through a more scientific analysis of potential based on a broader suite of skills and experiences. The mission of a growing business cannot be compromised by artificial constraints placed on any members of a diverse candidate pool. Leading organizations are creating broader networks of relationships and inclusive environments in which to promote and nurture leaders, including the emergence of high performers who historically may have been more reluctant to take on a leadership role in a less inviting workplace.

Diversity & Inclusion has been and remains a critically important discipline driving business performance. While the first generation of initiatives in this area focused on the acknowledgement of and compliance with this issue, there is an opportunity now for D&I 2.0 to up the bar and drive tangible business results. If we can build a truly inclusive workplace that fully expands our view of talent and fully stretches our appreciation for ideas and perspectives, then perhaps our D&I strategy will, over time, simply be our … business strategy.


* Predictions for 2016
A Bold New World of Talent, Learning,
Leadership and HR Technology Ahead
Bersin by Deloitte

Effective Listening: How Experience and Technology (ET) can make us listen like aliens in the workplace.

The first communications course I took as a new sales hire for a forest products company introduced the skill of effective listening. I remember learning that good communicators listen for facts, feelings and emphasis. The facts represent the content, the data, the information. The feelings capture the way the message is transmitted … the tone and volume of the voice and the facial expression. Finally, emphasis defines where the passion lies, as depicted by energy, posture, eye contact and inflection. I learned that effective salespeople and, several years later, effective consultants, must actively listen for all three.

Effective listening is arguably the most difficult communication skill, as compared to presenting or questioning or negotiating. Two of the barriers that impede our use of this skill are the experience we have gained and the technologies we use in our professional journeys. Rather than tools that advance our listening competence, they have become obstacles. Our growth and fulfillment in the workplace depends upon our recognition of these challenges and our commitment to addressing them.

How can years of experience impede your ability to listen? Certainly, over each of our “storied” careers, we have built up biases around how we interpret the world and how we respond to varied points of view, word choices, expressions and presentation styles. These biases are limited and only marginally impactful in the early years of our career. Biases become more substantial and less flexible, however, as we mature and continue to use them to rationalize the judgments we make. Similarly, and somewhat related, are the “verbal patterns” of thinking that build up in our mind and, regrettably, become the organizing framework (and sometimes the receptacle) for much of what we hear every day. How often do we mentally finish and ultimately judge someone’s comments regarding a recommendation or a point of view because it begins to sound exactly like what so many others believe? As professionals and as continuous learners, we must resist any attempt to profile incoming ideas. Certainly, our experience can advance the conversation and build on new insights. But we must listen with the assumption that any idea, from top to bottom, reflects fresh thinking and unique perspective so that we can incorporate our experience in the most optimal way and collaboratively create new insight. By exercising patience, putting aside our biases and listening carefully with no assumed verbal pattern in mind, we can relish the merit of new ideas and the feelings behind them.

And what about technology? How in the world can digital technology and hand-held devices impede our listening skills? Well, for starters, let’s go back to our opening comment about listening for facts, feelings and emphasis. While smartphones and tablets, Twitter and Facebook, and dozens of business applications (e.g. travel sites, uber) have dramatically revolutionized our business day experience in so many positive ways, technology has had a catastrophic effect on the listening process of business leaders, many of whom once prided themselves on being engaged listeners. Contemporary listeners often do not “hear” the specific content in the message, because they are actively and often discreetly multi-tasking. Their ears are trying to catch the message, while their eyes are tracking texts or apps on their phone. Many listeners have no clue how a communicator feels about the message being conveyed, because there was probably limited eye contact, and the listener had only enough bandwidth to capture the words, not the feelings, much less the emotions, behind the message. So often the story behind the communication is abandoned, and the verbage sits on its own island, void of the empathy and context upon which it depends.

As if poor listening “costs” related to existing biases and our on-line mentality aren’t high enough, imagine the additional switching costs incurred when we attempt to go back and forth between these elements. Have you ever tried listening to a complicated business situation, then looked down at a long-awaited text or email, and then attempted to reconnect to the story with the SAME level of empathy and insight? These transitions carry an economic burden and, of course, bear a personal cost on the team members who look to our leadership.

While this article sheds light on societal norms widely known, it hopefully presents a candid view of two very real, yet very manageable, barriers in our professional communication. I

own a huge yellow lab whose name is Bubba, and when I ask Bubba if he wants to go to the park, I am met with a reaction that demonstrates the truest form of effective listening. His head jerks up, and he stares at me with complete engagement, eyes bulging out of their sockets and staring at me like lasers. I have his complete attention. Bubba has a great deal of experience with this oft-repeated question, but his reaction is always enthusiastic and reflects no internal bias … and he never finishes my sentence. There is no multi-tasking or technology, because Bubba turns off his smartphone when I speak to him. Now while we may all be a little too busy to always “listen like a lab”, are we giving those who speak to us our complete attention? I do think we have room in our day to listen respectfully and wholeheartedly to what our colleagues are saying to us. No one will perfect this skill, but pursuing excellence will help us each learn and grow. Over time, we can begin to listen less like an alien, and more like a human.

Igniting Your Company’s Culture: From Vacuum to Boardroom

Really important work is completed at companies big and small to make explicit what is already in the hearts and minds of their people – the cultural values of the enterprise. Yet for so many companies, these principles live as a framed document created at one moment in time and never generating the kind of business impact considered so promising at their inception.

How do we take a corporate culture from a “vacuum” within which many might think it now lives and into a “boardroom” where the underlying values can come alive and thrive? This is a legitimate question on several fronts. First, the integrity of a culture and its associated values are only as strong as one’s ability to apply the culture on the job and in the market. Second, there is a precious time investment associated with the articulation of a culture/values/desired behaviors, whether tacitly or analytically defined. A lack of discipline and leadership to execute these behaviors within the business would seem to be unacceptable. Finally, there is a negative impact on the human reaction to a culture that is sedentary and dated. Such an impact can harm recruiting efforts, competitive differentiation in the market, and organizational morale.

So what types of cultural bridges or tactics can bring our culture and human capital values to life and serve a productive role for the business?

Years ago I worked with a financial services company that had a small, but growing, multi-family lending division. Despite the positive momentum of its strong brand, low transaction fees, and a strong sales team, this bank faced strong headwinds related to its success in creating a positive “customer experience”. Specifically, formal customer feedback called out the insufficient way in which the sales team Communicated with borrowers during the lending process, the Accuracy of the information borrowers received (e.g. interest rates), the Reliability of the data and documentation deadlines posted, and the overall Ease of doing business (e.g. efficiency, steps in the process). We called this unfortunate acronym C-A-R-E. We then leveraged the bank’s core values to articulate a new sales culture built around an improved CARE sales process with a commitment to dramatically elevating the customer experience. The charismatic President of this division was at the forefront of this initiative, advocating the importance of becoming a CARE sales manager.

This is just one example of a competitive lever, in the form of a performance gap, which served as a landing ground for the bank’s existing corporate values. Certainly, any particular lever will draw out some values more than others. But if these values are the right ones for this culture, what better template for a solution can you find than the collectively defined and communicated tenets of the business. Below are three ways to bring your own values strategically alive.

  • Mobilize the culture and corporate values around priorities or opportunities within the business. A SWOT Analysis provides one natural framework here. Perhaps there is a weakness or threat that must be strategically addressed, such as the lending organization’s service issues discussed above. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple after his long hiatus, the company’s culture of “innovation” that had been so vibrant during the production of the Macintosh but somewhat lost after his departure, became immediately activated upon his return to drive the development of the iMac and decades of future products. Alternatively, there might be a Strength or Opportunity for growth. Certainly, when Timberland expanded from a boot company to an outdoor apparel company, its values adapted to a broader vision that included wool socks, flannel shirts and winter sports. New acquisitions might also present revenue channels long considered prohibitive. In such a case, the values can be applied to these newly defined opportunities or, as is often the case, the new or interim leadership team actually rolls out a fresh set of values for NewCo.
  • Design learning initiatives that train the talent of the company on ways to apply the culture to changes in the business. Recognizing the speed of change, well-designed training programs help reconcile leadership’s understanding of key initiatives and ensure alignment with the culture. Many companies invest heavily in new hire orientation programs that include a detailed discussion of the values of the company. When such a program is successfully delivered, all team members (e.g. call center manager, accounts payable clerk, sales director, logistics supervisor), with equal clarity, can discuss what a value like “collaboration” or “risk-taking” means to the way they do their job.
  • Incorporate the corporate values into core processes of the business as a way to “live” the culture, walk the talk and, of course, generate superior business performance. If “safety” or “candor” or “fun” is indeed an element of the collective culture, then why not incorporate the performance of the value into the ratings of leaders who must be the champions of an emerging culture. If “self-discipline” is a stated value, shouldn’t we ensure that self-discipline is hard-wired into the way we forecast and schedule customer orders, the way we pay vendors and the way we provide career opportunities for our people?

No one gets too excited seeing a laminated set of corporate values on the wall, with the possible exception of those who spent a ton of time and drank a lot of coffee building them out. The leadership opportunity here rests on mobilizing our people to apply these values and use the collective culture as a business tool to drive economic value.